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Tour de France: 'They called me every name under the sun'

There was a lot of fighting in the crosswinds for the first 20kms on this stage. As usual, my team was trying to get somebody into any move that went clear. The benefit of having someone in the break when your team has the yellow jersey is two-fold.

Firstly, if we got a rider into the break, he could sit on the back in defence of Rinaldo Nocentini's yellow jersey, not have to do any work in the break and could possibly win the stage if the group stayed clear.

Secondly, once the gap didn't grow enough to allow one of the breakaways take over the race lead, the rest of the team wouldn't have to drag the peloton along behind, because they would be chasing their own man down.

My team-mates were jumping on anything that moved, and after about 20kms, I slotted onto the back of a big group. There were 13 riders in it, with most of the teams represented. They drove along for about 50kms to establish a gap and then built up a lead of over seven minutes at one stage. My orders were to sit at the back of the group and not contribute to the workload.


Sitting on the back of a break all day means you can't win, even if you do cross the line first. If you win, everybody says you didn't ride all day. If you don't win, they ask how could you not have won.

Up front, Italy's Daniel Bennati of Liquigas and his Belgian team-mate Frederik Willems gave me tons of abuse, as did the Italian, Daniele Righi of Lampre.

They gave me so much abuse it was unbelievable. They called me every name under the sun because I didn't work in the break. The other 10 guys, though, knew they would be doing the same in my position and just got on with it. George Hincapie, who at one stage looked like taking over in yellow on the stage, won a mountains stage a few years back by defending Lance Armstrong's yellow jersey in exactly the same way.

With 50 kms to go, Bennati came up to me and said: "You're going to have to pay me a lot of money if you want to win this stage or you will never win, because I will chase you down. There's no way you're going anywhere without me."

The Italians would have preferred anyone to win rather than me.

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When I attacked with 11 kms to go, I gave it everything into a headwind on the final hill of the stage. But the first one on my wheel was Bennati. When he came up to me, I swung across the road and Russian champion Sergei Ivanovo counter attacked and nobody moved.

I knew it was game over. Two more went clear and I thought "how am I going to get back up to salvage anything". With 2kms to go, I just went absolutely flat out and caught the two chasers just before the finish. I decided to sprint straight past and if they got my wheel, they got my wheel, if they didn't I would get second, which is what happened.

Second on a stage of the Tour. If I had been offered that at the start, I would have taken it with both hands, but after the stage there wasn't the pleasure that should have been there. I was disappointed.

I found out later, when my Italian girlfriend Stephania phoned me, that Bennati had gone on live TV and told the world that I was a small rider and that nobody should have any respect for me. In fact the first two words out of his mouth when asked what he thought of the stage were, "F**k Roche!" I twisted and turned a lot that night before I went to sleep.

This morning before the start, I waited along with the Italian media outside the Liquigas team bus. We were all waiting on one man -- Daniel Bennati. While they were waiting to grab him for a few words, I was waiting to grab him by the throat -- and that's exactly what I did, in front of the press.

I told him he needed to give me some respect and that he would have done exactly the same thing as I did the day before, had he been in my shoes. You do whatever your team manager tells you. If he tells you not to ride, you don't ride. If he didn't understand that the priority was the yellow jersey on my team, then he doesn't understand cycling.

In the end, I had all my team-mates working hard to close the gap so Hincapie wouldn't take the jersey. Nocentini only held onto yellow by five seconds in the end. If I had ridden even once, he could have lost those five seconds. I told him if he had a problem, he should have come to me after the stage, not go on live television. I think he was surprised I had the balls to go and grab him in front of the Italian press, but the cheeky b*****d said he did nothing wrong.

Yesterday was miserable and I was hanging on the whole day. I think I was more mentally tired than anything. It was one of the worst days I've had on a bike in ages. I was going out the back almost from the start. Very few riders congratulated me on Saturday's second place, apart from a few friends. Righi even came back and had another go at me, calling me a b*****d. My legs felt like I was riding into a brick wall

I decided to ask Lance Armstrong what he thought of the whole situation. I speak with him every day and he's sound enough. I told him all the stuff that happened. He basically said that it's just a bike race and every team has their own interests. There's no right, no wrong, only points of view, which made sense actually.

He told me that Hincapie was disappointed because my team was chasing behind and he eventually lost his one chance of going into yellow. I explained that it was the riders and not the team manager who had decided to chase. They had worked hard for the previous eight days and wanted one last day in yellow. Yesterday they got it. Rinaldo lost his yellow jersey to Armstrong's team-mate Alberto Contador on the climb to Verbiers.

On the final climb, I brought Nocentini to the front just before the bottom. I got dropped when Contador attacked and totally sat up with about 5kms to go, mentally drained. I lost six minutes, which isn't actually too bad. Although I can't wait for this race to end, I'm looking forward to the rest day today and a good lie in.

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